Back to Central America! I’m never gone very long, and that suits me just fine.
Looking forward to what will be a very interesting adventure, I’m sure.
Panama, country #27, didn’t make finding a book easy. The English-language choices were mostly about the building of the canal, or US military intervention – and everything was by white guys. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that…I just was not in the mood. Finally I came upon The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez, and I’m really glad I did.
It’s story of a young woman, Miraflores, trying to find her place in the world while coming to terms with some pretty heavy family issues. Where does she belong? Who IS she? Tough questions that we all have to sort through; she has to do it with one foot in the American Midwest and one in Panama.
This is a kind and gentle book. I loved Mira’s voice – she’s confident, brave, and well-adjusted, and I enjoyed getting to know her. She’s written as a real person; she’s not some super hero that strides the earth, conquering all obstacles with ease. She knows, she doesn’t know, she tries to find out, sometimes she wins and sometimes she loses…just like the rest of us.
The author conveys a very solid sense of place; her affection for both Chicago and Panama is evident in her writing. Overall, a really enjoyable book and a much appreciated breath of fresh air.
I’ve been at this books-and-food-around-the-world thing for awhile now, long enough for some trends to emerge. A few that come to mind: there aren’t as many published female authors as there should be, just about everyone in the world eats coconut, and this, the most solid of truths I can offer up: reading about Central America will break your heart.
A perfectly balanced, pristine environment? Let’s tear it all down! Life that can’t be found anywhere else? Let’s kill it! People fleeing violence in the next country over? Let’s beat the shit out of them! Cultures that have a lot to offer, just maybe not to modern Capitalism? Roll right over them! Wait. I just described most of human history. Anyway…
The Gringo’s Hawk by Jon Maranon is the autobiography of an American expat who finds his way through the jungle (both literally and figuratively) to a place that he can call home. He does a good job of not coming off like some privileged American who expects a more “simple” place to provide shape and meaning to his life…for one thing, there’s nothing simple about Costa Rica. He documents his failures and successes in dealing with the people, places, and wildlife that he encounters, some of which are heartbreaking.
I will say I was surprised by the lack of literary offerings from Costa Rica; I expected there to be more widely published authors. Once again…being an English-only speaker (and reader) doesn’t win the day. There’s a whole world of books out there that I don’t have access to. Read on, you lucky multilingual people!
Rain Forest, Costa Rica
(Image by Central Intelligence Agency (The World Factbook) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)